Digital archaeology: a workshop

I have agreed to present a half day workshop in my Department here at Flinders University on what I am calling ‘Digital Archaeology’. It’s aimed graduate students in our archaeology and cultural heritage programs who want to know more about how digital/web technologies are radically changing how we go about doing archaeology. It’s a little similar to what some in the USA seem to call cultural heritage informatics, but that’s not a term that is in very wide use here in Australia at this stage.

The workshop will be a three to four-hour long introduction to the technologies that students can use to improve how they collect, analyse, manage and share archaeological data. I want to focus on things that students can use now, and that will likely be around in one form or another for some time. Where possible, I want to advocate open access/source approaches. It will be entirely introductory and assume that participants have little or no experience using many of the technologies being covered. I may be assuming that they know too little, but I think we need to offer a basic entry point into this material for people who are not at all familiar with it.

I am, however, keen to make sure that this workshop is useful to participants and that it covers things that are of widest possible value. This may be a little cheeky of me, however I am posting my brief thoughts here on what I am planning to include in the hope that you, dear reader, might spare a minute to comment. I’m glad for people to adopt ideas too, but be kind and acknowledge where possible: in this regard, I have benefited from talking to/reading stuff by Ethan Watrall and others associated with the Cultural Heritage Informatics Initiative.

Core concepts:

  • What is digital archaeology?
  • What are digital data?
  • What are ‘open access’, ‘open source’ and ‘creative commons’ and why are these things important?

Digital research tools:

  • Web feeds and archaeology (or keeping abreast of what’s going on)
  • Managing bibliographic data with Zotero
  • Google Earth and its application to archaeology (managing GPS data, creating basic maps and some discussion of the way it has been used in research)
  • Geographic information systems – QGIS (this will be brief)

Digital images

  • What is metadata and why is it important?
  • Scale, resolution and formats: a quick primer
  • Managing and sharing images with Picasa
  • Sharing your work: Flickr and Picasa Web

Finding, collecting and cleaning digital data

  • Why is it important to standardise archaeological data?
  • Cleaning up other people’s data (using Google Refine or basic functions of a spreadsheet)
  • Creating geographic data (using Fusion Tables to create KMLs for gEarth/gMaps/QGIS)

Communication and collaboration

  • There’s more to the web than Facebook!
  • ‘Bloggy’ media (Tumblr, Twitter, Blogging)
  • Web collaboration (Google Docs at this stage)

Yes, it is a lot however its an introductory workshop that aims to increase awareness of these issues and technologies rather than how to actually use them all. I’m hoping that it may prompt a few of our research students to get more interested in this stuff. Comments appreciated!

Post image is Portable GPS Device – Finished (Kinda) by 3D King (CC BY-NC 2.0)

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Community heritage databases: an open approach

Databases for storing archaeological or cultural heritage information are not something that one hears spoken about too often despite the fact that they are the backbone of many a project. A good database can improve data accuracy and reduce data entry times, keep the results of your hard work organised and also allow you to analyse or present these results in an efficient way. They’re quite critical in the process of managing heritage information as well, whether that be information about places and objects, documents, oral histories or cultural information. Quite some time ago I promised a post about a heritage database I am developing for an Indigenous community organisation I work with at Weipa in Cape York Peninsula. In this post I thought I would touch on some of the issues that underpin our approach to this as well as why a carefully considered open source approach is in fact fundamental to the ethos of community based management. I’m also seeking collaborators to help advance these ideas.

Community based databases

To my mind, Indigenous community based heritage management sets out to help empower and support communities in managing their heritage places in ways that they see fit, particularly with respect to local decision making processes, priorities and management approaches. This includes the full range of activities involved in heritage projects including:

  • project development,
  • identification and documentation of tangible and intangible heritage
  • significance assessment
  • planning
  • information management (including interpretation).

A well designed heritage database has potential as a tool for community organisations. They can help with making planning decisions and allow people to make greater use of their heritage information for purposes such as community education, tourism, research and so on. The approaches, methods and priorities of communities may vary depending upon specific cultural, historical, economic or social circumstances, however the underlying motive of a community based heritage database is community control, community ownership and self-determination.

Technology can help to empower Indigenous communities who are seeking to take control of their heritage information and to care for and use this information in ways that they consider to be important. However, there are some significant issues that need to be considered and here I list some of those that are at the forefront of my mind at present. I’m sure there are issues that I’m yet to confront and, as always, I’m very happy for further comments and ideas.

1) Appropriate access controls

I am a great advocate of open access in relation to publishing research and disseminating data however there are significant ethical issues with this. In Australia, it is generally acknowledged that access to information relating to Indigenous heritage should be controlled and restricted only to those who have appropriate permissions to access such information. It is critical that cultural protocols surrounding access to information are not only recognised in principal, but built into the fabric of the database itself.

Hence, a community heritage database needs to ensure that access to heritage information is controlled in a way that is culturally appropriate. At the very least, it needs to ensure that access is not open to one and all and, ideally, allow community organisations to decide upon and enable tiered access for different kinds of users.

2) Data integrity

This is a simple point, but an important one. A community heritage database needs to ensure that novice users can not accidentally delete or alter records. In other words, the integrity of the information needs to be maintained.

I once worked for a large (non-Indigenous) corporation whose idea of a heritage database was a spreadsheet accessed across the company intranet. Through user error, a large portion of the spreadsheet was accidentally deleted and it took substantial efforts for this data to be restored. Suffice to say, spreadsheets are not generally the best method of managing large amounts of heritage information.

So in summary, any system that allows data to be accidentally modified is a problem. The tiered access protocols mentioned above would ideally not only control what users can see, but also, who can make changes to records.

3) Simple and low cost

With some  exceptions, Indigenous community organisations are often very poorly resourced. They have limited staff, few specialised staff, high workloads, limited cash and generally limited or no IT support. In short, an expensive or highly technical heritage database is not an ideal option.

To my mind, simplicity means a system that is sufficiently intuitive that it can be quickly grasped by someone who can  use a computer to access email, browse the web or write basic documents. Simplicity is not a one day training workshop; it is a well designed, intuitive system that can be picked up in a few hours.

Cost effectiveness is another issue. ArcGIS, for all it’s merits, is ridiculously expensive (and doesn’t meet the simplicity clause); a custom designed database is likely to be equally expensive to develop, test and implement. In my view, cost-effectiveness means that costs for development and operation can be easily buried in the budget for a typical heritage project. By making the source code for such a database open source, a developer can be employed to improve and refine it in the knowledge that others will benefit from the work.

In other words, open source shoud be seen as central to the design of a community based heritage database.

4) Open formats

Open formats means that the data are not stored in a format that are only readible by proprietry software. At worst, the system needs to be able to be easily able to export heritage data without any loss of detail.

There are very few software formats these days that I routinely deal with that are not readable by other kinds of software. Even ESRI shapefiles, which were once notoriously difficult to use outside of an ESRI software application (such as ArcView), have emerged as a standard in at least some open source GIS applications.

Nevertheless, it is important that the database does not turn into a silo that locks heritage information into one piece of editing or viewing software.

5) Data Insurance

The database needs to be backed up and fully replicable should something nasty happen, like a fire or theft. One colleague recently suggested a database running on a PC with a network backup would be the ‘safest’ means of providing access to community heritage data. It was proposed that this ‘backed up’ option would be protected from theft, spilled coffee and so on by being physically locked in a back office of a community organisation.

I entirely disagree with this approach from the perspective of data insurance. One PC is easily broken; networks go down and can be very difficult to reestablish for non IT savvy people. External hard drives are notorious for the ease with which they can be dropped. Any system that solely relies upon on site data storage is risky, particularly when in a community organisation where access to computers may not be tightly controlled.

Hosting data on servers that are regularly backed up offsite while providing end user access via a website is the safest option. This also allows for an administrator to be based off site so that maintenance or updates can be made without expensive trips to the community.

6) Community input

One of the critical elements of shaping a community heritage database is that it needs to be able to have new information added by users. This may range from adding annotations to photos, uploading photos and GPS tracks, new site records or management observations. This kind of interaction may be restricted to specific kinds of users, such as community rangers or heritage officers, however the ability to add new information is critical if it is to be useful on a day to day basis for community members.

Seeking collaborations

So there are some of the issues that one needs to get their head around when developing a community heritage database. As I noted, there are likely many more issues that I’m yet to come to grips with and certainly, there will be complexities to each of these points that I’m not yet aware of. Regardless, I think this issue is relevant to many community groups around the world who may benefit by having their own heritage databases.

At this stage, I’m developing these ideas in a very rudimentary form using two different options.

For heritage places, I’m simply using google sites/maps and network hosted KML files. It’s far from an ideal solution and doesn’t meet some of the requirements I’ve outlined here. For example, at this stage users will not be able to add new information and access is controlled by a single password.  It does, however, get ‘safe’ information out there for the community group I’m working with, which is a start. The place information is edited and managed in an ESRI geodatabase that I maintain.

Photos, documents and oral histories are being managed by Zotero. At this stage, we’re still adding content and haven’t yet moved a group library to a community workstation. Zotero itself doesn’t allow tiered access, however as I understand it, Omeka does allow this through defined user groups and this may be the way forward for this kind of information. The advantage of Zotero is that students and collaborators can edit and add to the library, which makes lighter work of what is a very slow process.

Ideally, both kinds of heritage information would reside in one system however I suspect the simplest way to achieve this in the short term is a single website with Omeka and some kind of mapping interface. I think if Omeka were able to handle KML files and custom fields (i.e. to suit heritage places) we would have a solution that would resolve many of these issues.

I am very interested to find people who may be interested in collaborating on developing a community based heritage database system that can meet these needs. If you are interested, or know someone who is, please drop me a line using my contact form or via twitter @mickmorrison. I think it would be necessary to obtain funds to develop this further, that is, in order to pay for development time on an open source project.

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Editing styles in Zotero – help needed!

I am trying to edit a style in Zotero to suit the formatting requirements of the journal Australian Archaeology, however I seem to have hit a couple of problems.

I’m subtly modifying the Harvard style #1 created by Julian Onions. It’s surprisingly easy to make slight changes, in no small part due to this great guide by the Zotero crew, however I’m having several difficulties so I am posting this here in the hope that some kind passer by or forum user may be able to help…

Problem 1

I’m not clear on how to insert parentheses around the ‘ed’ abbreviation in my stylesheet for an edited book (as opposed to a book section). I’m assuming this needs to happen in the macro editor definition and have amended it as shown below to make this work for book chapters/sections:

<macro name=”editor”>
<names variable=”editor” delimiter=”, “>
<name and=”text” initialize-with=”. ” delimiter=”, “/>
<label form=”short” prefix=”, (” text-case=”lowercase” suffix=”), “/>
</names>
</macro>

While this works for book sections, this doesn’t insert (ed) behind the editors names on an edited book – just ed. I’m assuming that using the prefix/suffix formatting parameters may is how one achieves this, but I’ve tried to insert this at various points in the layout section with no success! What follows is my layout section as it presently stands:

<layout>
<text macro=”author” suffix=””/>
<date variable=”issued” prefix=” ” suffix=””>
<date-part name=”year”/>
</date>
<choose>
<if type=”book”>
<group prefix=” ” delimiter=” ” suffix=”.”>
<text macro=”title” />
<text macro=”edition”/>
<text macro=”editor”/>
</group>
<text prefix=” ” suffix=”.” macro=”publisher”/>
</if>
<else-if type=”chapter”>
<text macro=”title” prefix=” ” suffix=”.”/>
<group class=”container” prefix=” ” delimiter=” “>
<text term=”in” text-case=”capitalize-first”/>
<text macro=”editor”/>
<text variable=”container-title” font-style=”italic” suffix=”,”/>
<text variable=”collection-title” suffix=”.”/>
<text variable=”event” suffix=”.”/>
<group suffix=”.” delimiter=”.”>
<text macro=”pages” />
<text macro=”publisher” prefix=” “/>
</group>
</group>
</else-if>
<else-if type=”thesis”>
<group prefix=” ” suffix=”.” delimiter=”. “>
<text macro=”title”/>
<text variable=”genre”/>
<text macro=”publisher”/>
</group>
</else-if>
<else>
<group suffix=”.”>
<text macro=”title” prefix=” “/>
<text macro=”editor” prefix=” “/>
</group>
<group class=”container” prefix=” ” suffix=”.”>
<text variable=”container-title” font-style=”italic”/>
<group prefix=”, “>
<text variable=”volume” />
<text variable=”issue” prefix=”(” suffix=”)”/>
</group>
<group prefix=”, “>
<label variable=”page” suffix=”.” form=”short”/>
<text variable=”page”/>
</group>
</group>
</else>
</choose>
<text prefix=” ” macro=”access” suffix=”.”/>
</layout>

If anyone knows if the prefix/suffix formatting fields will work and if so, where to insert them I’d be most appreciative! I’ve tried inserting them in a few locations with no luck.

Problem 2:

This problem relates to the locator variable in the citation section. I need my citations to look like (Johnson 1989:98). The citation layout is as follows:

<group>
<label variable=”locator” suffix=”:” form=”short“/>
<text variable=”locator”/>
</group

This outputs a citation as (Johnson 1989 p.98). It’s easy to remove the period, what I’m not clear on is removing the ‘p’: altering “short” to “long” just outputs page instead of ‘p.’; removing the field ‘form’ or deleting the text highlighted in blue sees this default back to ‘page’. Is there a term that I can insert in place of ‘short’ to suppress the page output entirely? I’ve tried ‘false’ ‘null’ and even deleted the ‘form=”short”‘ section entirely but the result is the same.

Any thoughts or ideas appreciated, either here, by email or over twitter!

You can download the full CSL file here with my alterations to the standard Harvard 1 style: Harvard – Australian Archaeology

(edit) Solutions!

Re issue 1, Avram Lyon (see comments) suggests the following ammendement to the citations section of the layout. Ammendments highlighted in blue:

<citation>
<option name=”et-al-min” value=”3″/>
<option name=”et-al-use-first” value=”1″/>
<option name=”et-al-subsequent-min” value=”3″/>
<option name=”et-al-subsequent-use-first” value=”1″/>
<option name=”disambiguate-add-year-suffix” value=”true”/>
<option name=”disambiguate-add-names” value=”true”/>
<option name=”disambiguate-add-givenname” value=”true”/>
<layout prefix=”(” suffix=”)” delimiter=”; “>
<group delimiter=” “>
<text macro=”author-short”/>
<group delimiter=”:”>
<text macro=”year-date”/>
<text variable=”locator”/>
</group>
</group>

</layout>
</citation>

Another solution was posted on the Zotero forums, however I’m yet to make this work but will update here if/when it does.

Issue 2 was solved on the forums with the code below, which is inserted into the author macro:

<macro name=”author”>
<names variable=”author”>
<name name-as-sort-order=”all” and=”text” sort-separator=”, ” initialize-with=”.”
delimiter-precedes-last=”never” delimiter=”, “/>
<label form=”short” prefix=” (” suffix=”).” text-case=”lowercase”/>
<substitute>
<names variable=”editor”/>
<text macro=”anon”/>
</substitute>
</names>
</macro>

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This digitised life … (with Zotero)

There are quite a few open source applications around that are at the point of being sufficiently well developed to be of practical use for a professional on a day to day basis. Those that immediately come to mind include Open Office, Inkscape, the GIMP, the strangely named ‘gvSIG‘ (GIS) and of course the bibliographic application Zotero that I discuss in this post. That’s not to say any of these apps are not useful, reliable or popular but rather, that very minor issues sometimes mean that their day to day use is not entirely problem free in some scenarios. It’s not a universal scenario, but is certainly something I have noticed.

Interesting Things In My Library #7
Interesting things in my library #7 (Flickr User AussieRupe - Rupert Scammell)

Zotero impressed the heck out of me when I first began using it regularly. Early versions were a little buggy, occasionally crashed,  had limited support for in-text citations and also caused random database craziness. Indeed, until the beta of V2.0, I could only use Zotero as a tool for quickly adding new items that I had found on the web to my master bibliography, held in Endnote. But that rather unique functionality was enough to make it a permanent resident on my mac. It was good, and certainly very promising, but just not good enough to use (or trust) with my entire bibliographic database. So I used it and abused it, leaving it running in the bottom of my browser window where it would store small batches of new discoveries for a few days at most before they were exported to Endnote.

Fast forward a year or two and as most people would be aware the Zotero developers now have a very stable and extremely useful 2.03 release behind them: the app – a gem of an idea – has evolved into a beast. There are so many  advantages to using Zotero for managing my research sources that I really don’t know what I would do without it now, and many of these benefits are fairly well covered on the Zotero website. However, Zotero is not yet my one stop reference manager for a few small reasons and, with the view that constructive criticism can be helpful, I thought I should outline those here.

Support for in text citations (or rather a lack of support) has long been an issue. There are now citation plugins for both Mac/Win Microsoft Word and Open Office (as well as OO on Linux), however I still find them a little frustrating to use. They lack contextual menus and while the commands work fine most of the time,  very occasionally the plugins fail completely and require a reinstall. These are certainly not major issues, more inconveniences. But as I suggest below, mere inconveniences become much more than that in a professional workflow with very hard deadlines, real clients and where one doesn’t tend to have time to mess about fixing things.

Editing citation/bibliographic styles with Zotero is not for the faint hearted. Indeed, it’s quite difficult and requires a degree of computer literacy that I and many others don’t have. While there is an active community who have developed a good range of styles that you can download it’s not possible for mere humans to edit these styles. Why would you want to edit an output style? Put simply, to ensure that your reference list meets the requirements of publications whose styles are not currently supported. Endnote handles this same problem well: one simply copies the nearest similar style, makes some minor changes using their style manager and you are done. Zotero has a long way to go in this regard.

Searching is important to me, indeed, it’s critical however Zotero has somewhat lacklustre search abilities. I have a very large database, not only of sources but also accompanying notes and PDFs, different kinds of sources for different projects and so on. While doing a quick search for a term or author is easy, advanced search options are basically absent. I suspect that the ‘smart folders’ tool is there to provide some of the advanced search capabilities I need, but I haven’t yet been able to add more than one search criteria to a saved search which limits its effectiveness for me. Perhaps there’s something I’m missing? Better search gives users more control.

The Firefox browser is not where I like to work. While Zotero has decent integration with my desktop environment – including dragging reference lists into other apps or drag/dropping of PDFs into the Zotero database itself – I still find it a source of ongoing frustration to work inside a browser. Fortunately, they are working on a standalone desktop client. Bring it on: Zotero is the only reason I continue to use Firefox at all.

Zotero is very important to me; it is a potentially very powerful research tool that any serious researcher should be using in some way.  Proxy support, syncing/sharing to the web, wide support for importing new sources and many other attributes make it a research-centric tool not matched elsewhere. Frankly, the inability to edit styles in Zotero is the only issue that prevents me from fully (and permanently) incorporating this wonderful application into my professional workflow. In a document with 10 or 20 citations, this limitation is really only a mere inconvenience however if you regularly work on projects with 10s or 100s of citations – as I do – then it’s a deal breaker. I’m not going to edit large reference lists manually.

So, overall I think that the app is almost there; indeed, I really really want it to get there soon. It has become the central store for all reference materials across all of my projects, which means I trust it with the results of years of my hard work to accumulate a useful reference database. It’s stable and dependable and despite day to day use for quite some months now I have not had a single crash or error since I installed the 2.0 beta. The issues I highlight here then are very minor complaints indeed and are far outweighed by the advantages of using this app. If you are yet to try Zotero for yourself, I can not recommend it enough. To the Zotero developers: thankyou – this humble researcher is eternally grateful!

Edit 3 June 2010: Reader Sebastian, in a comment below, has pointed out this discussion on the Zotero forums about editing styles and a project underway  linked to Mendeley called ‘csledit‘ that will, hopefully, resolve the style editing limitation. Good news indeed. Thanks!

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Zotero 2.0 and archaeology

Bibliographic software are an essential part of the software suite of many researchers, providing an important means of organising citation data and associated documents and notes. In recent years, this software also become increasingly good at allowing researchers to directly import new references found on the web into their reference collections at the click of a few buttons. However, the recent release of a fairly stable Beta version of Zotero (2.0) – an open source bibliographic software – suggests that bibliographic management may soon be turned on its head.

JSTOR: Oceanic Linguistics, Vol. 3, No. 2 (Winter, 1964), pp. 248-265Zotero is an extension, or plugin, for the free web browser Firefox and has been around for a while; indeed, I have written about it before and I’m still an enthusiastic advocate. The application sits inconspicuously in the bottom of of your web browser and allows you to directly import references from a very wide range of sources including journal databases, search engines such as Google Scholar, or library catalogs. Once in your reference collection, you use the program as your bibliographic manager, placing items into categories, attaching research notes and so on. The people at Zotero have a very good range of introductory tutorials, so I won’t cover that here. Overall though, it’s quite a nifty little program; for example, it can download whole pages of references from Google scholar or journal databases as well as import from or export to other bibliographic software packages. You can also use Zotero to cite references and compile reference lists in documents that you are working in both Microsoft Word and OpenOffice.

One reason I think Zotero 2.0 will change the way many academics use bibliographic software is that it has various tools to enable collaboration across the web. Whereas Zotero 1.0 sat in your browser enabling you to acquire and manage your references, 2.0 enables you to:

  • Synchronise and backup your Library to the web or another computer;
  • Create public or private ‘groups’ on the web, allowing group members to collectively build reference collections online;
  • search public collections compiled by other researchers;
  • seemlessly add references found in public collections to your own collection

This will be of great value for teams working on collaborative research projects because it will allow team members to work from and also contribute to a central reference collection on the web.  It may turn out to be a useful tool in various contexts, including:

  • university lecturers or teachers seeking a single, web-friendly reference collection on a particular subject or topic;
  • publishers, societies or organisations wanting to improve accessibility to their publications;
  • researchers who want to compile a list of their own publications on the web, as a supplement to online resumes and so on;
  • collaborators working on research projects involving multiple individual researchers;

In a project I am working on we are planning on using Zotero 2.0 to collaborate on compiling a database of archival sources. The ease with which individual collections can be shared in Zotero 2.0 makes it a very attractive alternative to the old system of swapping ZIP files of endnote libraries or worse still, emailing documents or reference lists back and forth for manual entry into your bibliographic software.

If you haven’t tried Zotero, then I suggest that you read this and decide whether you want to try the Beta or the current stable version. It takes no time to install and is completely free. Personally, I have found it to be an incredibly useful addition to my software suite and it is likely to soon completely replace the commerical bibliographic software I am currently using. I don’t think Zotero will change the way all archaeologists collaborate, however for key groups of web-savvy researchers I suspect Zotero 2.0 will be picked up very quickly because it provides what seems to me to be a rather unique set of tools not yet available elsewhere.

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Publishing with Google Earth and Google Map products

Note: this is a post that originally appeared at my old blog and generated a reasonable amount of interest there, so I am posting it again here.

Google Earth and Google Maps are both wonderfully useful resources for archaeologists and people in allied disciplines. Google Earth in particular is a quite a powerful little program largely because of its simple, intuitive interface and the fact that it is free. But can students, researchers or academics use these images from a copyright perspective?

(more…)

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FGIS: a useful (and free!) random and systematic sampling tool

Leszek at Free Geography Tools has written a brief post about using a freeware GIS tool (FGIS) that would be of some value for archaeos engaged in field sampling (on any scale). The tool allows you to create files containing either a series of random points or systematically spaced gridded points. Creating such files is a useful skill most archaeologists will need at some point: for example, I have used random and systematic points for field surveys (eg. to define centre points of areas to survey) or as part of a detailed recording or excavation sampling strategy (eg. to define 1 metre squares on large sites for detailed recording work).

The tool allows you to define a geographic area (polygon) that you would like to sample and then allows you to populate this with points. You can create a random or systematic (grid) distribution of points and can define both point spacing (for grids) or number of points (for random points). Resulting points can be saved as a shapefile, a common and mostly open GIS format as well as a few other formats.

Once you have your shapefile of points you can upload it to most GPS devices using DNRGarmin and similar Windows software, or GPSBabel for fellow Mac users. You can even covert it to display in Google Earth and print the resulting image with Lat/Long or UTM coordinates attributed to each point.

There are more advanced options for doing this with many commercial GIS applications but they’re not free and therefore less accessible for students. This method also seems rather low-tech, and low-tech is king on fieldwork in my experience! Also, if you are not already a regular reader of Leszek’s blog I highly recommend it as he writes about many useful tools for archaeos.

Links
Check out Leszek’s post here.

DNR Garmin website

GPSBabel

FGIS

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Research tools and the web: finding and keeping track of references

The internet has revolutionized the research process providing a range of new, on demand sources for scholarly articles. In today’s post I wanted to briefly look at some free tools for finding and keeping track of research sources on the web that I have found useful in writing a PhD and also working as an archaeological consultant.

Finding references: Google Scholar
Most people are familiar with Google Scholar, the search engine that retrieves information about research papers, books and so on. It can be incredibly useful, particularly if you are delving into a new field or research area and you quickly need to identify key sources. Scholar is reliant upon search engines having discovered a source in order for it to show up in your search results. Thus, if a source is not available on the web in the correct format then, logically, it does not show up in scholar search results and so searches on any particular topic might only return a small number of relevant sources available. Typically, there was a bias towards recent journal articles that were on the web.

This was once a real limitation to scholar’s usefulness. However, during the past two or three years things have changed as more and more academic sources – both new and old – are being posted to the web. Today, scholar is a powerful tool that returns relatively comprehensive results in many subject areas. You can search for articles by author as well as those which are published within specific journals or in a particular date range; results can be directly imported into your bibliography software (see below). It has its limits though and the number one limitation in my view is scholar’s inability to monitor your searches. At present it is not possible (easily and reliably at least) to monitor a particular search for new articles as they appear. For example, if I search for ‘coastal archaeology’ in December it would be useful for scholar to notify me when a new article appears in those search results in February.

If you’ve not used scholar for a while it is well worth revisiting. It is constantly improving and is (in my experience) the easiest way to quickly find relevant scholarly articles on the web today.

Zotero
(Zoh-TAIR-oh) is, in the words from their website, “a free, easy to use firefox extension to help you collect, manage, and cite your research sources”. It is an open source project based out of George Mason University and is free to install and use without restrictions. It serves three main purposes:

– Collecting sources. Zotero uses bits of code called translators that allow you to import citation information from a website automatically. Many popular journal databases and major libraries have working translators and more are being actively developed. The result: you can visit many major sources of references, search and find what you are looking for and with one click import these into your Zotero bibliographic database. In other words, no more manual entry of citation information into your bibliographic software!

Major journal publishers such as Elsevier as well as Google Scholar, Amazon and many, many other websites are supported.

– Manage your sources. Zotero imports your references into a database file on your Mac or PC which is accessed by using your firefox web browser. You can create folder hierarchies (Zotero calls them ‘collections’) in which you can store your references. Once you have a source in Zotero you can add tags (keywords), enter notes, create links to any website (e.g. to reviews of a book) and attach a link to a local file or web document. Figure 1 below shows the browser interface.

– Cite sources and create bibliographies. This part of Zotero is important as it allows you to directly cite a source from your database in a document, and automatically create a bibliography of sources cited. I use Word 2008 on a Mac, which is not supported yet, however this function works on most other versions of word and on all versions of open office. You simply install a small add-on, select the reference you want to cite, and you’re away.

With these sorts of options Zotero is emerging as a serious stable alternative to commercial bibliographic software such as Procite and Endnote. It’s clean, fast, stable and customizable. It’s web interface is its real strength. I use it mostly for importing references I find in google scholar: simply run a search on scholar, click the ‘Save to Zotero’ button and select the references to import.


Figure 1 – The Zotero interface

Citeulike
Citeulike is best compared to a social bookmarking utility for scholarly articles. Users create their own account and add articles to their library by using a small bookmarklet (a bookmark that opens a pop-up window – see Figure 2, below). This process is automatic for most major journal websites, and so once you find an article you simply click your bookmarklet and it is directly added to your library. Citeulike doesn’t yet have the functionality of Zotero so for example, you can not automatically add references from Google Scholar to your library, however most major journal databases do work well.

Citeulike has other advantages that make it a crucial part of my work flow at the moment, mainly because it supports web feeds. All users have a web feed, meaning that others can subscribe to your feed and be notified when you add a new reference. You can also create and subscribe to feeds published by groups, for example I have created the group “Archaeology and Palaeoenvironments of the Australia-Pacific” which is open for anyone to join. Any members of this group will be automatically notified of new references added to the group’s library. So, for me the great value of citeulike is that it makes it much easier to share references between people interested in similar areas.

Figure 2 – Citeulike bookmarklet pop-up

So in summary, my web workflow consists of the following:

1) find references in scholar, citeulike or by browsing journal websites;
2) add my reference to citeulike OR zotero depending on which platform allows me to automatically import my reference;
3) download the article PDF to my computer;
4) export the citation from Zotero or citeulike into my local endnote library (one click);
5) attach the PDF to the endnote item; and finally,
6) read!

It may seem like a lengthy process but in most cases it takes me only 1-2 minutes to find, import and cite a new reference using these tools. Zotero is rapidly improving and will soon allow users to share libraries, thereby replacing much of the functionality of citeulike. Although for many using these sorts of tools may be quite new, they are typically very easy to use and can speed up the time it takes to find and manage your research sources.

I’d be interested to hear from others who use these or other tools or have suggestions for improving this system. You can do so in the comments below.

Links:

Google Scholar

Zotero

Citeulike

My citeulike library

Citeulike group: archaeology and palaeoenvironments of Australia and the Pacific

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Download web maps to your garmin GPS

Readers may be interested in a new service from Garmin that allows you to download results from web-based mapping applications directly into your Garmin GPS device. Window’s Live and Google Maps both support the service which I suspect exports the results of web based searches for directions (i.e. drive 200 m to X road, turn left at Y street…) as a route then uploads this to the GPS.

It’s a simple browser plugin that works on Windows and the Mac and is apparently compatible with any Garmin GPS that is able to connect to your computer via USB. It’s free and can be found here:

http://www8.garmin.com/products/communicator/faq.jsp

I found this service on the  Free Geography Tools blog: if you have a background in archaeology, earth sciences or other allied fields and you use ‘maps’ (which will be all of you!) I highly recommend visiting. Many tips for free software, web services and so on.

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gvSIG – new opensource GIS software


I recently received an email update from Oxford Archaeology Digital via the IOSA email listserv about gvSIG, an open source Geographical Information System (GIS) platform. This is a project that I was not aware of until now but which seems to be focussed on the development of a user friendly GIS for Windows and Linux (and hopefully, one day, Mac!). From the blurb on the OAD website and in their Quickstart guide it seems promising:


The government funded gvSig project is a free and open source Geoinformation System (GIS), that enables you to interactively visualize, manage, modify and analyze spatial information in the form of digital maps, images and database tables. It is easy to learn, yet versatile and efficient enough for demanding GIS tasks. Above all, it is freely available, at no charge and under a license that emphasizes your freedom of use rather than restrictions. It is also a cross-platform application, based on Sun’s Java technology, which currently runs on Windows (2000/XP/Vista), Linux and Mac OS X operating systems, giving you great flexibility in its deployment.

I don’t fully understand the need to develop another standalone opensource GIS platform given the decent options out there for both entry level/user friendly (i.e. Mapwindow and QGIS) and more sophisticated (i.e. GRASS GIS) software that have been around for years. I’m also not clear as to whether this software is oriented toward archaeological applications given that it has been developed by OAD. The quickstart guide indicates that it has many features that are available in both Mapwindow and QGIS and various screenshots suggest that dialogue windows have a strong resemblence to those in the commercial GIS software Arcview/Arcmap from ESRI.

Personally, I think it looks interesting and I hope it is more archaeologically focussed than other open source alternatives that are out there at the moment. One useful set of features to include for archaeologists would be tools for spatial analysis; these are often absent from many commercial and opensource GIS platforms. Even ESRI’s Arcmap (which retails for around AUD $6-8000 last I checked) requires the purchase of an additional extension to enable this type of functionality. At present gvSIG is at version 1.1.2 with active development on V2.

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